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Friday, July 02, 2010

Trials and Tribulations in the Airport

by Ann Chiappetta

I stood at the ticket counter waiting for the skycap for assistance to the departure gate.

My bag was checked and my dog had done her business before arriving. I was mulling over the threat of my flight being canceled due to the storm settling in over lower Westchester and Long Island when the skycap appeared. I could tell he was pushing a wheelchair. The thoughts about canceled flights were replaced by predicting how long it would take me to convince the ticket agent and the skycap that I didn’t need the wheelchair.

“Excuse me,” I said to the ticket agent, hoping to head things off, “I don’t need a wheelchair, just a sighted guide.”

I knew from experience that trying to explain it to the skycap was an effort in frustration. Stating my needs to the ticket agent was my best bet.

“You don’t want help?” she asked.

“I just need sighted assistance. I have a guide dog. I can walk.”

“You have a dog? Can it sit in your lap?”

I took a deep breath,

“Look, all I want is a sighted guide to help me through security and lead us to the gate. I don’t want a wheelchair.”

The skycap perked up.  “I no take you with no chair,” he said and walked away.

“Get your supervisor,” I suggested. The girl agreed and after a moment of heated whispering with the supervisor she escorted me to the security line.

 The real fun began with taking apart my bag and dropping my belongings into bins: shoes and jacket in one, electronics open and out of cases in another and yet one more for my carry on bag.

“Make sure you stay with my stuff,” I said to the ticket agent, knowing that my belongings might be an easy target for light fingers.

I tried to convince the security agent to let me go through and then call the dog through but he wasn’t willing to take my suggestion and practically pushed us both into the arch of the metal detector. After we set it off, the security agent herded us into a Plexiglas booth to wait for a female security agent for my pat down. I groan, wishing my husband, who is a Federal agent, could’ve escorted me. I wanted to tell them to wand my dog, not me, but I just let them do what will get us through the line with the least resistance. The humiliation of a pat down is bad enough, then to make things more frustrating, the female security agent who patted me down pet my dog and I wanted to slap her hand. Instead, I packed up all my things, put on my shoes and got to my gate.

After three hours, every outbound flight was canceled due to the storm. I eventually got home, only to be reinserted into the airport phenomenon again the next day. Fortunately, the second run went much better than the first.  No pat downs, just a wand to the dog and that’s it. I breathed a sigh of relief when we touched down in California.

Six days later, I caught my return flight to New York. Remembering the humiliation of the pat down in JFK, and wanting desperately to avoid another, I asked the security agent to allow me to go through the metal detector alone.

“Let me go through first. My dog will sit and stay until I call her. I won’t set it off; it’s my dog’s harness that does it.”

The man said, “Miss, you sound like you know what you’re doing, so go ahead.”

I wanted to kiss him.

My dog behaved impeccably, and soon I was slipping back into my shoes and shrugging on my backpack.

After touching down in New York, on our way to the car, I think, what’s Amtrak like? Maybe a bus would be less trouble. Then again, time is of the essence and wasting it is inconvenient. At least I know how to avoid those humiliating pat downs. That alone was worth the trip.

Article Source:
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind

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